Pretty Maids All In A Row: Bridesmaids Dresses No Longer Cookie-Cutter

We’ve all the seen the disturbing photos. Like evidence from some sort of fashion crime scene, they are images of women wearing frozen grimaces, shellacked hair, and uncomfortable bouffant dresses in cotton candy pink, some even with matching lace umbrellas.

For years, bridesmaids just had to grin and wear it, no matter what gown the bride chose for her bridesmaids to wear. That finally may be starting to change.

“Brides are starting to realize that they don’t need girls all in the exact same dress in order for it to feel like they have a cohesive, beautiful look,” said Ashley Krauss, owner of A Little Something White Bridal Couture, a bridal boutique in Darien.

In fact, Krauss said, more and more of her clients are moving away from the traditional, matching bridesmaid dresses and instead are choosing dresses that coordinate in color and fabric while allowing the bridesmaids to pick their own style.

“People can wear what’s flattering to their bodies,” she said. “And it still allows the bride to be really happy with the overall look because even though it’s not the same dress, the end result is still the same.”

As this latest trend in bridal fashion gains traction, Krauss said, many of the designers they work with are responding by creating collections that coordinate in overall appearance, but offer different cuts to help flatter a wider variety of figures.

“Very rarely does a bridal party of girls come in the same shape and size. You can have two girls that are the same height and weight, but carry it differently,” she said.

Bust lines, in particular, are often an issue and subsequently many dresses are now being made with different bodice options including single or double straps, strapless, cap sleeves, or halter-style tops, better allowing bridesmaids to feel more comfortable with the level of coverage they have.

However, readymade dresses don’t always accommodate every figure and personality, which is why Kathy Faber, designer and business owner of Kathy Faber Designs LLC in Bristol, custom-designs and makes brides’ and bridesmaids’ dresses for her clients.

“The nice thing about custom is that one bridesmaid wants strapless. Another girl with a little more of a bosom wants to order it with straps. We can do whatever it takes to be comfortable,” Faber said. “Then you can get into the dress, go to the wedding and enjoy it instead of worrying about your appearance.”

For many bridesmaids, it’s a considerable improvement from the norm of spending hundreds of dollars on an uncomfortable dress that doesn’t fit right, looks awkward in pictures and is usually worn only once before spending the rest of its life in the back of a closet.

“Years ago the trend was more that the bride made the decisions and you just had to go with it, but now everyone’s voice counts and that makes it more interesting,” said Faber.

And it’s not just the cuts that are changing, but adherence to a single color is changing, too. Faber said that a lot of brides are now opting for bridesmaids’ dresses in complementary colors that coordinate, but aren’t identical, allowing bridesmaids to wear something that represents their style, while still giving the bridal party a unified appearance.

“Everyone’s personality is different, as well as their body,” said Faber. “And this way when they have them designed it not only fits their body and personality, it still keeps the bride happy by giving her the color and fabric she chose for the wedding.”

Typically brides come to Faber six months to a year in advance to begin planning their dresses, which are usually ready to go about a month before the event. And on average most of her floor-length gowns cost around $260.

“We are competitive with ready-to-wear,” she said. “And with ready-to-wear you’re going to pay an additional $50 to $100 in alterations.”

Several years ago, Tarah Zeiner met Faber when she was a bridesmaid in her sister-in-law’s wedding. The Torrington resident said that other than the color and fabric, she and the other bridesmaids were able to choose whatever style dress they preferred.

“We just loved it,” Zeiner said, which is why when she got married last year she had Faber make not only her bridesmaids’ dresses, but her bridal gown as well.

“That’s the reason I went back,” she said. “I was excited that she could do whatever I wanted, so that was something I really wanted for my bridesmaids. I wanted them to be comfortable.”

Happy and comfortable bridesmaids are what an increasing number of brides are looking for, said Faber, who makes roughly 600 dresses a year, including dresses for flower girls, mothers of the bride and other wedding party members.

“You have to feel good, because if you don’t, you can’t relax and enjoy the day,” she said. “It’s a celebration of love and you want everybody happy, comfortable and looking good.”

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